An Italian police investigation reported by the newspaper La Repubblica has revealed that eleven thousand tonnes of rotting or out-of-date cheese from European dairies were mixed with fresh products and resold in the market.
Instead of destroying the cheese, some 40 Italian, British, German and Austrian firms reworked them using four companies headed by a Sicilian businessman. Three of the companies were based in Italy while another was based in Germany.
The rotten cheese, containing mice droppings as well as residue from plastic wrapping and ink labels, was mixed with fresh cheese products and used to make cheeses such as mozzarella and gorgonzola.
A total of 11,000 tonnes of cheese was recycled in this way over the past two years and the four companies involved achieved a turnover of some 10 million euros (15.6 million dollars).
The sale of the new products would have brought in hundreds of millions of euros, according to the daily.
The investigation by a special police unit last lasted two years and three people have been arrested.
"The alteration and faking of dairy and cheese products has made them dangerous to public health," wrote Francesco Messina, the judge in charge of the case.